FARGO — North Dakota State threw all kinds of offense at its first three opponents this season. On Saturday, the Bison defense took their turn.
Two game-saving interceptions in the latter half of the fourth quarter gave No. 1-ranked NDSU a 27-16 victory against No. 4-ranked California Davis in NCAA Division I FCS nonconference play before 18,425 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
Give Bison safety Michael Tutsie and defensive linemen Derrek Tuszka and Cole Karcz three big assists in the victory, with all three having a hand in the two fourth-quarter interceptions.
"We were just saying we had to finish," said Tutsie, who has four interceptions over the past three games. "That what Code Green (defense) does. We are built for moments like that."
The Bison (4-0) have won 25 consecutive games, the third longest winning streak in FCS history. They are one win away from matching the second longest streak by James Madison, which won 26 in a row from 2016-2017. The Bison own the longest FCS winning streak with 33 in a row from 2012-2014. The Bison have a 116-8 record since the start of the 2011 season.
"We have great respect and admiration for the Bison and what they do," Cal Davis head coach Dan Hawkins said. "I thought it was fun to be here."
The Bison defense saved the day, creating two critical turnovers in a game that wasn't decided until the final minutes.
The 6-foot-5, 246-pound Tuszka tipped a pass from Davis quarterback Jake Maier, and the deflection fell into the waiting arms of 6-foot-4, 271-pound Karcz at the Aggies 18-yard line.
"I was thinking, 'Hold on to the ball,'" Karcz said.
"That's going to happen," Maier said of the deflected interception. "You can't always win. That's how life works."
NDSU quarterback Trey Lance scored three plays later on a bruising 10-yard touchdown run that gave the Bison a 27-16 lead with 2 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
"The defense, they won us that game," Lance said.
One possession earlier, Davis looked to be on the verge of taking a lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Aggies had a first-and-goal from the Bison 4-yard line, but NDSU defensive lineman Costner Ching sliced through the line of scrimmage and tackled running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. for a four-yard loss.
On third-and-goal from the 7, Tutsie stepped in front of a Maier pass near the goal line with 6:44 remaining.
"I was just reading the quarterback's eyes and being patient," Tutsie said.
The Bison got the ball at their own 2 and got a pair of first downs before the drive stalled. Davis took over at its 28-yard line with 3:48 remaining. On first down, Tuszka and Karcz, both seniors, turned in the game’s biggest play, which set up the game-clinching score.
"We didn't have a great game offensively," said Bison senior running back Ty Brooks, who rushed for 104 yards on 11 attempts. "The defense bailed us out time and time again."
Davis finished with 422 yards on 80 plays, but the Bison limited the Aggies to three points in the second half. Davis scored its lone touchdown in the first quarter. NDSU head coach Matt Entz wasn't worried about the yards allowed.
"It's all about 16 points," Entz said.
NDSU wasn't able to shake the Aggies until late in the fourth quarter.
True freshman kicker Griffin Crosa gave the Bison a touchdown lead midway through the third quarter. His 26-yard field goal staked NDSU to a 20-13 lead with 7:37 to play in the third quarter. Wide receiver Christian Watson set up that score with a 45-yard catch that moved the ball to the Davis 9-yard line.
The Aggies pulled within 20-16 after Max O'Rourke booted a 40-yard field goal with 4:07 to play in the third quarter.
Touchdowns were hard to come for both teams for most of the afternoon.
After trailing 10-7, the Bison took the lead back for good late in the second quarter after Lance scored on a 1-yard TD run. Davis initially appeared to have stopped Lance near the goal line, but the Bison quarterback landed on an Aggies defender and his knee didn’t hit the ground. That score gave NDSU a 14-10 lead with 7:24 to play until halftime.
Brooks set up the short Lance score with a 57-yard run, which was NDSU’s biggest play of the first half.
Crosa made a 42-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to give the Bison a 17-13 heading into halftime.
Maier had a big first half for Davis, completing 12 of 26 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. His 17-yard scoring strike to tight end Wes Preece tied the score at 7-7 with 4:59 to play in the first quarter. The Aggies took a 10-7 lead after O’Rourke drilled a 48-yard field goal with 10:28 to play in the second quarter.
The Bison finished with 354 yards on 67 plays, rushing for 198 yards on 44 attempts. Lance completed 13 of 22 passes for 156 yards with no touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound freshman didn't feel he was as sharp as he was in the first three games.
"You can't be your best every game," Lance said. "A win is a win. We'll take the win every time."